Two documentaries reveal shadowy Koch-funded network threatening democracy, public education


By Colleen Flaherty and Amanda Litvinov

Just how much political influence can money buy?

How much money can the rich pour into politics before democracy is compromised?

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Can the public possibly stand up to the seemingly unlimited resources behind the agenda to take away their rights?

These questions, and many more, are raised by the documentaries ‘Citizen Koch” and “Koch Bros. Exposed,” which both use as their starting point the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the door for corporations to spend freely and anonymously in political campaigns, giving the nation’s wealthiest an outsized voice in politics.

Both films set out to unravel the very tangled web of rich donors, corporate interests, foundations and “think tanks” woven across the decades-long efforts of billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch to rig the entire political system for the nation’s wealthiest.

“I am a Republican. But what I voted for is not what I got,” said Wisconsin school librarian Mari Jo Kabat, one of three Republican Wisconsinites Citizen Koch follows in the lead up to the recall election of Gov. Scott Walker.

The Koch Brothers, who were the single largest donors to Gov. Walker’s campaign, also exerted influence over the state legislature through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that connects corporations directly with state lawmakers, making Wisconsin a testing ground for the Kochs’ takeover agenda.

And that’s why Walker’s job one was to dismantle public sector unions, one of few entities that defends the interests of everyday Americans in the fight for an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.

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The deeply conservative Kabat was incensed when Walker and the GOP-led legislature, cheered on by the Koch-fueled Tea Party movement, upended the rights of workers with the passage of Act 10, sparking mass protests in Madison.

With so much ground to cover, “Citizen Koch” doesn’t go into how the Kochs’ Wisconsin project has affected public education there. Perhaps the filmmakers would consider a sequel.

“Koch Brothers Exposed,” recently rereleased for 2014, takes a much wider approach to discussing the infamous billionaire duo. They’ve been making headlines lately as large-scale donors behind the more notorious radical conservative politicians.

But according to the film, their influence goes so much farther.

Opening with chilling music and sound bites from prominent politicians, the documentary throws number after number, showcasing the wide net of donations the Koch Brothers have cast over various campaigns, organizations and even schools since the Citizens United decision.

“We have an amazing team of researchers. They’ve spent—they’ve literally been working 18, 20 hours a day trying to get the numbers, get the facts,” said Robert Greenwald, director of Koch Brothers Exposed.

“So in addition to what’s public, there’s so much money that they hide. There’s the so-called Koch Bank. There are trusts set up. And we’re still tearing out our hair about how much more money that we’re not even knowing about.”

Their influence reaches all the way to the local level. Take for example Wake County, North Carolina. ALEC-endorsed candidates outspent their opponents hardily thanks to Koch dollars and took over the school board. They enacted ALEC-backed policies, even going so far as to resegregate the schools.

The Kochs are also using their billions to push their propaganda at universities. As donors to higher education, the Kochs have designed grant agreements with more than 150 colleges and universities where they have control over who gets hired. The programs they fund present only their views in class, curricula and in their research.

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For a film that only runs an hour—and is available to watch for free—it covers a remarkable number of topics, from their attack on workers’ rights and dismantling unions, to blocking efforts to raise the minimum wage and even environmental devastation from several factories owned by Koch Industries.

Any viewer who doesn’t reside in the top 2 percent on the wealth spectrum—especially those who fall short of making $1.8 million per hour like the Kochs do—can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the facts presented in these films.

The one way in which the nation’s richest and poorest are all equal is in our Constitutionally protected right to vote—but the Koch network is doing its best to tamper with that, too, namely through an onslaught of unneeded voter suppression laws passed throughout the country.

The effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker was unsuccessful, but last year Wake County voted out the Koch-funded school board members who put the interests of their donors before those of the community.

The upcoming 2014 midterm elections are the best chance for education advocates and working people to vote out the governors, state legislators and federal representatives whose records show they will push the agenda of rich corporations and CEOs at the expense of students, educators and working families.


Reader Comments

  1. Lies. I ran the PAC supporting the 2009 Wake County Republican School Board Candidates. The Koch Brothers didn’t contribute one dime to that campaign. AFP didn’t contribute one dime to that campaign, and was not a factor — they had one guy one the ground here who did not organize any campaign events. The old school board were thrown out for their “progressive” 70’s-style social engineering through school buses and maniacal focus on racial balance over academic achievement for all. Based on the above column, you people should seriously question any “news” you get from this outlet.


        Lisa Graves was one of the creators of the website ALECExposed. She has followed the money, and she here describes a dangerous threat to American democracy by the billionaire Koch brothers, ALEC, and others who seek control by the super-rich. They want to bust unions and privatize schools. Graves says that progressives must stand together. I agree. That’s why I grow frustrated when union members attack their unions. Of course, they should fight to win democratic control of their unions. But when they begin hurling insults and invective at their allies, they do the work of their common foe.

        Graves writes:

        “Two of the richest men in the entire world are plotting to dominate our elections this fall, from congressional races to school board seats.

        “Their scheming to shove America further to the far right should be a serious wake-up call for anyone who cares about our nation’s soul.

        “As Charles and David Koch promised their billionaire buddies, they’ve assessed how the quarter billion dollars they helped raise and spread across the country failed spectacularly in the 2012 elections. And, they’ve made adjustments to their battle plans to win more this time…..

        “If unions and their leaders want to stand up to the Koch machine – which has sought to gut union power for decades – I say right on. Nurses, teachers, and factory workers ought to have a chance to negotiate with power for better wages and working conditions than each could negotiate with their powerful employer alone.

      At first glance, the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers and the Wake County, North Carolina, school board couldn’t be more disparate. Charles and David Koch, the brains behind the massive Koch Industries conglomerate and the funders of so many right-wing political causes, are national figures, credited with (or accused of, depending on your political persuasion) launching the tea party movement and waging war on the Obama administration and its agenda. The Wake County public school board is, well, just that.

      In reality, there are deep connections between the Kochs and Wake County, and it’s all about the money. The latest installment in the left-leaning Brave New Foundation’s “Koch Brothers Exposed” video series claims that a Koch-founded and funded outfit, Americans for Prosperity, fueled a campaign to “resegregate” the schools of Wake County, a prosperous area in central North Carolina that’s home to the cities of Raleigh and Cary, among others.

    2. you will be likely be voting on a ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES with a part made and patented by Koch brothers company. In 9/2013 Koch brothers latest venture and latest purchase became with a company named Molex. They purchased Molex for $7.5 billion.

  2. Proof – please. It’s easy as pie to make idiotic Republican-biased accusations, a little more brain is needed to sufficiently back them up, teresa.
    Did you actually r e a d the above article? What has Soros done that can ever come close to the harm the Koch Brothers have hammered down on our democracy?

  3. Teresa: please tell me you’re not a teacher. “…dangerous to American THEN the brothers…”. Really? I’ve seen this error more and more in recent years. It’s THAN. It’s not a typo. It’s ignorance. If teachers want (demand) respect, then dammit, learn the language.
    Now, as to your comment, I completely agree. The Koch brothers are just a convenient target for the leftist, fascist NEA. Soros, Hollywood, unions like the NEA, all give far more to leftist causes than the Koch family does.

    1. Fascist, really?
      Untrue, Martin.
      If you’ve seen the numbers, the Kochs-et al- have outspent nearly all the unions combined.

    2. I pray for all people who don’t walk the walk of a teacher yet believe they have a right to talk the talk. All human beings deserve respect no matter the profession but for some reason– in America, teachers don’t deserve any! I shake my head in disgust at opinions such as the one listed. This is America– free speech, but until you walk the walk, your talk is that— cheap, meaningless talk!

    3. Speaking of ignorance…..fascists are RIGHT wing, not left wing. But then that comment is from someone who believes unions have access to the same kinds of funds that billionaires do. If only….

    4. Fascists are RIGHT wing, not left wing. But then this comment is from someone who thinks unions have as much money as billionaires. If only….

    5. . That’s where Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group, came into play. AFP funded a local grassroots group, WakeCARES, that organized on behalf of four candidates who sought to kill the district’s policy of busing to ensure diverse, desegregated public schools.* The four candidates ran against what they called “forced busing”—a phrase, the film points out, that dates back to George Wallace in the 1970s—and instead stressed that schools should educate only those who lived in the surrounding neighborhood.

      Local reporters, some of whom are interviewed in the film, connected the push to eliminate busing with the philosophies of AFP and its funders. “They’re definitely pushing an agenda to resegregate these schools, but there’s also a real push toward privatization,” Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies says in the film.

      In the end, with the help of AFP-backed WakeCARES, all four anti-busing candidates won, and the school board has since taken steps toward rolling back its existing busing policies despite a wave of protest and outrage in the local community.

      Robert Greenwald, president of Brave New Films, says he and his team zeroed in on the Wake County schools controversy as a way to illustrate just how powerful monied interests can be at the local level. “The fact that millionaires can put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a local election and essentially deprive people of their rights, in many ways, and mess with their school system,” he says. “It seems to us one of the strongest examples of the really incredible way money takes away our democracy.”

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